Early Clocks

Today we take knowing the time and the day of the year for granted but for our ancestors it was far more difficult. Until mechanical clocks were invented in the 13th century there were various ways of telling the time.

The earliest method of telling the time of day was the sundial. It is not known when the sundial was invented but they were certainly used in Ancient Egypt and Ancient Iraq. They are also mentioned in the Old Testament. Other ancient civilizations such as the Greeks and the Romans also used sundials. Over time sundials gradually became more accurate and they remained a common way of telling the time until the early 19th century.

About 1400 BCE the Egyptians invented the water clock. It consisted of two containers of water, one of which was higher than the other. Water flowed along a tube from the higher container to the lower at a steady rate. Rings were marked on the inside of the lower container and when the water level reached one it meant another hour had passed.

The Saxons used a candle clock. A candle was divided into segments and it took an hour for each segment to burn.

Mechanical Clocks

The mechanical clock was invented in the Middle Ages. Who made the first one and when is not known but it was around the end of the 13th century. In 1309 a clock is recorded in a church in Italy. The oldest working clock in the world is in Salisbury Cathedral. It dates from 1386 and it has no dial. Instead it chimes the hours. (Our word clock comes from the Latin word for bell ‘clocca’).

Early clocks were normally in churches and they were very heavy because they were worked by weights. However about 1450 the coiled spring was invented and it made possible portable clocks. The first watches were made in 1510. In the 16th century some rich people had clocks in their homes but they were very expensive.

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